FCC proposes new media ownership rules


Outgoing FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, center, expressed concerns about the FCC proposal on media ownership. (Nati Harnik/AP)

Today, the agency voted to continue with a new proposal to lift a ban on allowing companies to own a major TV station and a major newspaper in the country’s top 20 markets. Currently, a rule dating back to the 1970s forbids a company from owning a major TV station and a major newspaper in the country’s top 20 markets — an effort to provide media diversity.

In a notice of proposed rulemaking, the agency said it proposes “to eliminate the radio/television crossownership rule in favor of reliance on the local radio rule and local television rule. We believe that the local radio and television ownership rules adequately protect our localism and diversity goals and seek comment on this proposal.”

The commission is required to review its rules on media ownership every four years. In 2007, the FCC came forward with a very similar proposal to relax these rules. Former FCC chairman Kevin Martin said that changes in the media landscape have made it difficult for news organization to provide local news amid budget cuts. But that proposal was met with opposition from public interest groups and was ultimately thrown out by a federal appeals court after a judge ruled the FCC did not have a long-enough period for public comment.

In a statement, outgoing Democratic FCC commissioner Michael Copps said that he was “deeply distressed” to discover that the measure was being considered again.

“Worse, the conditions that the then-majority attached to the 2008 newspaper-broadcast rule were so ridden with loopholes that an 18-wheeler could be driven through them — yet here they are, teed up for our consideration yet again!  I was strongly opposed to the four factors that Chairman Martin proposed in the 2007-2008 proceeding, and I am opposed to considering them again in this proceeding,” he said.

Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron reacted to the news by saying that the FCC is merely repeating its past mistakes.

“The FCC must be having a Yogi Berra-moment, because it’s déjà vu all over again on the failed policies of the previous administration,” Aaron said in a statement. “Those policies were resoundingly rejected by the public, Congress, and the courts. The FCC should be working to remedy the mistakes of past administrations – not repeating them.”

Both Copps and Aaron said that they approved of the commission’s decision to look closely at shared services agreements, in which media organizations pool reporting and resources to cut costs, but have raised concerns about whether organizations use these agreements to circumvent media ownership restrictions.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn also expressed her concerns about the proposal, saying that it does not go far enough to address the issue of ownership diversity, and that the commission needs firm data to understand who truly owns American media.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.

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